I have been away from Malaysia for almost a month, trotting through various countries beginning with the Middle-East and then on to some other European countries. This is the longest consecutive duration I had been away from my own country in the past 18 years. It was a great (and rather expensive) experience reading life, scrutinising cultures, observing faith.
But in all truth, as I write this article at the airport of my departure at the very end of my wandering, my heart is filled with gladness at the thought of returning. Home. Not just to my house, but to my homeland.
I realise that despite everything that has been happening in Malaysia recently, we come from a land of aplenty. We are, as the Christians would say, “a land flowing with milk and honey”. We enjoy an abundance of natural resources to keep the nation going, great talents among peoples of different ages and races, and fascinating diversity among peoples of various cultures. Coming from Malaysia, honestly, I have found the lack of diversity in Europe rather boring.
After having visited lands near and far over the years, I cannot help but conclude that Malaysia has everything it takes to be a great nation.
And yet, where are we now? Our journey as a nation is fraught with multiple allegations of corruption in national leadership, the struggle for economic survival as the cost of living oppressively escalates on a daily basis, and people of minority races and religions contesting for the right to exist as if there was insufficient space and resources in the country for everyone.
The add to the already heightened psychological and emotional stress of her peoples, the country suffers under the tyranny of leaders who continuously manipulate its sometimes naïve citizens by aggressively propagating the notion that our battle as a nation is a battle for the supremacy of one race and one religion above others, because all the existing minorities are a big threat to the existence and future of the majority. It would seem that peddling such fear among the majority would be the only way to remain in power.
My parents remember a very different Malaysia. It used to be that neighbours of all races and religions were truly neighbours. We actually shared our spaces and welcomed others into our homes even if they were different. We ate off one another’s tables because we all enjoyed being friends.
Today, minorities are made to feel like they have no right to occupy any space at all. Some of the majority have bought into the ideology that their existence, prosperity and future – their very rights – are under siege, while most of the majority who do not share the same sentiments would not dare to speak out against this erroneous notion. Because of the pressure to conform, it is easier to just sit back and remain a silent majority whilst the disenfranchised struggle helplessly for the right to be Malaysian simply because they have never known any other place to be home.
In all reality, there is no minority trying to dominate the right of anyone else. In the final analysis, I think we are all dreaming of the same thing: we want Malaysia to be beautiful and happy. But in order to fulfil that dream, there are two crucial aspects of our nation we need to restore.
The first aspect we need to restore is that of integrity in our national leadership. We used to never have to doubt that our national leaders were people who loved the country and were there in service of her people. They were national heroes. Even if mistakes were made, they were made with the best intentions. I do not know if we can believe that of our current leaders anymore. Inasmuch as present leaders may be attempting to restore a trust that is lost, the time has passed for that. There is such a thing as wrongs committed that render it too late for a leader to begin again as if our memories could be wiped out in an instance by annual gifts of RM500 coupled with positive lip service and empty assurances. The sufferings of and the irreversible repercussions upon the people as a result of leaders’ self-motivated indiscretions amount to much more than such petty tokens. It has been said again and again, but something concrete needs to be done about this: our country desperately needs a change of leadership if we desire to be a great nation again.
The second aspect we need to restore is that of the values we share in our sense of nationhood. Instead of buying into the hermeneutics of fear and suspicion that are peddled by philosophically immoral leaders, we need to believe that we as a nation are bigger and better than that. We need to collectively desire, as one people, one nation, all that is good, all that is true, and all that is beautiful. We need to embellish our life as a nation with aspirations that are noble and admirable. We need to wish one another well and be willing to toil together to see that everyone’s wellbeing is taken care of. If our leaders have betrayed us and have failed to lead us in this endeavour because of their mercenary motives, then we have to do this ourselves for the sake of our nation.
Oh Malaysia, you were once a great nation. But you are falling. You have fallen much lower than you ever have. But there is yet hope for us to be great again. To be great again, we must look beyond the false propaganda and misguided notion of supremacy upon which some national leaders try to build our nation. They are either terribly deluded, or else they are intentionally manipulating us. We must realise that we become really supreme only when we stand together. Together.
To be a great nation once again, we must build our society upon love and mutual respect that we share for one another. We must be a society in which every man and woman, every boy and girl, counts, regardless of religious confession or racial composition. It is not about supremacy, but about how we can accept – not just tolerate, but celebrate – the differences we have among us as Malaysians. This goes far beyond the mere negotiation of how much we are willing to tolerate one another or co-exist without stepping on one another’s toes. We must appreciate one another and be willing to help one another to attain this greatness. Together.
In all those countries that I have visited in the past month, wherever the perceived supremacy of one particular people became the foundation upon which their society was built, whether it was the perceived supremacy of a particular race or religion, and the existence of other members of their society became illegitimate and their dignity was threatened, everyone inevitably became “less human” than they would otherwise could have been. I beg you, this cannot be our future. Our Malaysia can be better than that.
I am coming home to the only nation I have ever known to be my own. But a challenge confronts me as I board the plane: my nation can be great again, but how much do I believe this and what am I willing to do to contribute to this pursuit of greatness for the nation I love?